Television affects women's perception of pregnancy and birth, reveals new research. Danielle Bessett of the University of Cincinnati examined how women understand their television viewing practices regarding pregnancy and birth.
In her study, which focused on a very socioeconomically and racially-diverse group of 64 pregnant women, she has described their pregnancy-related use of popular media and their perspectives about how popular media affects their expectations for pregnancy.
Twenty-eight women indicated that they had watched at least some reality television that related to pregnancy. Women volunteered television reality shows such as TLC's 'Baby Story' and 'Maternity Ward' and Discovery Health's 'Birth Day.' Women who worked outside the home were least likely to describe watching these programs, while women who were unemployed or cared for children at home were more likely to report pregnancy-related viewing.
Bessett said that more educated groups downplayed the significance of television in their expectations for pregnancy. She added that highly educated women who watched tended to disavow reality and fictional television as information sources for themselves and initially framed those programs as merely a tool for entertainment and for educating young children about reproduction. However, women with lower educational attainment were more likely to perceive television as an alternative to traditional childbirth education.
According to Bessett, reality shows portrayed births with many more medical interventions than typically happen in real life at the population level. Her study results showed that many women cited overly dramatized medical scenes as they expressed fears about how their own births would take place.
Bessett added that many women mentioned pregnancy representations they had seen long before they got pregnant, and those powerful impressions ultimately stayed with them. She concluded that this research implied that many women underestimated the extent to which their expectations of pregnancy and birth were shaped by popular media.